The development of an innovative telemessaging service (FLO); to enhance student engagement and student retention.


When did you first introduce the innovation?

Between 12 and 24 months ago

Please describe the innovation you have developed

FLO is a highly successful mobile phone ‘Telehealth’ service which prior to Staffordshire University’s involvement had been used in over 1,000 nation-wide health and social care settings (for example in supporting patients with diabetes, high blood pressure and dementia). FLO’s automated telemessage technology is used to contact first year student nurses via text messages from the commencement of their training programme to the end of their clinical experience taster week in week 9 and again throughout their first full clinical placement block of eight weeks.

The messages aim to be welcoming, encouraging and supportive as well as providing information regarding support services, assessment dates and student events. There are two types of messages sent to students, information or statement messages and interactive messages which require a response from the student, for example have you met your personal tutor? Or have you had your mid-point review with your mentor? Dependent upon the student response the co-ordinator receives an alert which allows them to follow up the student response, make contact with the student and where appropriate commence individualised support for the student concerned.

What prompted you to develop this innovation?

It is widely acknowledged that the decision by students to leave Higher Education (HE) is rarely due to a single causative factor, but rather a complex process which is affected by an array of interacting contributory factors (Watts 2011, Walsh et al 2009, Crosling 2008, Yorke and Longden 2008, Longden 2006 Wilcox et al 2005). It is also widely recognised and recorded that this withdrawal from HE is most likely to occur during the students’ first year of study, than at any other time during their HE experience (Walsh et al 2009, Yorke and Longden 2008, NAO 2007). Placements are also a critical point and while some students may excel in a practice setting, others may feel overwhelmed by placements, unprepared for the reality of practice, or isolated and disconnected from University life (Watts 2011). Placements are therefore often a trigger point for considering dropping out of University (Mulholland et al 2008).

It is recognised by Clark et al (2013) that there is no one single correct approach to enhance the student experience, and that each of the six identified areas need to be acted upon in a cohesive approach. Many of the identified causative factors in a student’s decision to discontinue their study are in line with the six areas identified by the Higher Education Academy for HEIs to concentrate upon to improve student retention; transition, learning and teaching experience, student support, participation and belonging, utilisation of data, strategic changes and information communication technologies.
Introducing FLO telemessage technology increases the students sense of belonging, increases their participation as well as providing them with information to support not only their studies with academic development but also their transition and integration into the HE environment.

In your view, what is it about this innovation that makes it different/important?

FLO is largely an automated service which allows us, the University, to interact with the students using a platform that they are familiar with and use on a day to day basis, text messaging via their mobile phones. This interaction increases the interaction between University and student whilst increasing the students’ sense of belonging to the University. Research has previously indicated that students who feel they belong are less likely to leave their studies and are more likely to continue to the completion of their course.

To what extent does your innovation make use of existing approaches, resources or technologies?

FLO was originally used for health promotion as well as empowering patients in aspects of their care, we have used this existing technology to increase our interactions with our students. Students receive communications from the University via e-mail and maybe telephone calls but until now there has been limited use made of SMS text messaging, the majority of today’s students have mobile phones and carry them with them at all times, messages sent from FLO are set to arrive at different times of the day and early evening in an attempt to arrive at an appropriate time, dependent upon the content of the message sent.

To what degree has this innovation led to changes in education or clinical practice?

The introduction of FLO has increased awareness of the need to support students through their first months of their HE experience. Reinforcing information about support and academic services available to students has proved invaluable to the students but the use of FLO has increased the awareness to the students of the important role their personal tutor can play during their time in University.

What evidence do you have of the impact of the innovation?

Evidence is primarily based upon student evaluations and feedback of the FLO service.

The use of FLO within Staffordshire University won an award at the recent NHS Flo Simple Telehealth Conference for the most innovative use of FLO telemessage technology.

Also student retention has increased with students citing that interaction with Flo helped and motivated them to continue with their studies.

To what degree has the innovation been disseminated in your organisation or elsewhere?

The Flo project has been successfully rolled out to other Schools and Faculties within Staffordshire University, areas or programmes with a known high attrition rates were identified and FLO was initiated within these areas with the aim to increase student interaction, student sense of belonging and ultimately improve student retention.

NHS FLO simple Health conference, organisers NHS Telehealth, Award ceremony, November 2014.

Technology enhanced education conference, organisers Birmingham University – Poster presentation, May 2015
Networking for Health Education conference.

Please provide details of any plans you have to disseminate the innovation in the future.

Flo will continue to be used within the Pre-registration nursing programme to all new students as they commence their programme, Flo will be utilised within other Faculties of the University to programmes identified as having high attrition rates
Further research on the impact of Flo is planned.

Following conference presentations links with other UK universities have been made with the hope to take Flo into other Universities to support students.